Living in a Straight World

16 Sep

I refer to my partner as, well, “my partner”. Others may call him my boyfriend, beau, or s.o., but I tend to use “partner” around people who don’t know him. This has apparently caused some confusion at my new workplace. Multiple people have asked me why I use that term and I think some of the ones who didn’t ask assumed I’m a lesbian. It seems to defeat the purpose of using a gender-neutral term when it’s seen as code for same-sex.

I was complaining about this to my partner and he looked at me squarely in the face and said, “No one uses that term here. No one.” Having come of age in many ways in the Bay Area, it never occurred to me that “partner” would be problematic. But isn’t it a much better term? Not only is it gender-neutral, but as an adult in her 30s in a long-term relationship, it feels more accurate. Calling a grown man “boy” is awkward and his gender is incidental. That he is someone I have committed to in life seems more pertinent.

I don’t know the sexual orientations of my co-workers, but I’m willing to venture an educated guess that only one has a same-sex partner. Out of 30. Coming from a workplace that was 60% queer, 3% just feels strange. One of my co-workers told me she was trying to think of a polite way to find out the gender identity of my partner. She had considered asking me my partner’s name but feared that I would respond with “Pat”, so she just ended up asking me directly.

The absence – or concealment – of LGBTQITS (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, two spirit) folks in my new world has been jarring. I used to be in a workplace, sector, community that was LGBTQITS-friendly, where it was part of the culture, where it just is. OC has a lot of homophobia (57% voted for Proposition 8 compared to only 38% of the county Oakland is in), we pushed Rick Warren to greatness, and I’ve never been able to get over the first time I heard of someone in my community committing an anti-gay hate crime when a football player at my high school went to Laguna Beach to hunt down gay men and he beat someone almost to death.

I can’t prove that there are fewer gay folks here (although, if I were gay, Orange County would not be high on my list of places to live). It’s hard to find stats. Just because someone may have a same-sex partner or fluid gender identity, doesn’t necessarily mean they identify as LGBTQITS. And just because someone identifies as LGBTQITS doesn’t mean they do so openly.

The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana metro area has the second highest number of gay residents in the country, but that’s partly because we have so many people here. If you go by percentage, San Francisco’s 15.4% is way higher than LA Metro’s 5.6%. If you look at SF Metro (which presumably includes Oakland), it’s 8.2%. Not that different. One could argue that I’m just living in the wrong part of town.

I guess that’s what is bothering me. I can find gay people in Orange County. But you can’t find them everywhere. Not that I walked around Oakland wrapped in beautiful rainbows of diversity and harmony, but things just felt more open. Like I could have intelligent conversations about sex and gender without homophobic and offensive comments.

I try to keep all my conversations devoid of homophobic and offensive comments, which means I try to avoid having conversations about gay people and gay rights with my family and my partner’s family. Guess that’s where my journey in OC needs to start.

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3 Responses to “Living in a Straight World”

  1. Carol September 16, 2011 at 11:27 pm #

    This would be funny if it weren’t so true. I love that partner is code for gay. Makes me think how irritating it is that straight women have “co-opted” the word girlfriend -as in “my girlfriend and I are having a girls night out”. It’s so confusing. I mean are you girlfriends or “girl friends”. Makes me have empathy for your co-workers’ confusion. Nice to know that if I come down for a visit I might double the gay population in the OC.

    • cil1977 September 20, 2011 at 11:30 am #

      Oh, I’m guilty of the straight woman “girlfriend” thing. I’ll think twice before I say it next time. Your comment reminded me of my partner’s uncle. He hasn’t come out although everyone knows he is gay. It’s kind of sad, really. So instead of calling his longtime roommate his “boyfriend” or “partner”, we call him his “hetero life mate”. 🙂

  2. jen September 23, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

    i’m just pissed that homosexuals have co-opted the word “gay” – why can’t i walk around telling people how gay I am without them thinking that I was a lesbian???

    (do i even have to say that i’m kidding? it’s assumed, right?)

    xoxo

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